NEW ORLEANS — The chemistry between Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo keeps blossoming to spectacular effect, infusing the New Orleans Pelicans with confidence as they head into the playoffs on a five-game winning streak.
"When he's going, he's got a high motor, pushing the basketball," Davis said of Rondo. "If we want shots, we have to run with him. He's making sure we're making the effort to get back into the offense and get some assists for him."
Davis had 22 points, 15 rebounds, four blocks and three steals, Rondo had 19 points and 14 assists and the Pelicans captured the sixth seed in the Western Conference playoffs with a 122-98 victory over San Antonio on Wednesday night.
Rondo set up all three of Davis' dunks — including a soaring roundhouse jam on a cut to the basket in the first half and a reverse alley-oop in the fourth quarter that drove the crowd wild.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker and Dejounte Murray each scored 11 points for the Spurs, who were already playoff bound but went to the locker room after their loss in New Orleans knowing they'd be at best a seventh seed, and that's where they ended up. With his team struggling to keep pace with the Pelicans, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich pulled his regulars early in the fourth quarter, limiting all of his key players to fewer than 30 minutes on the court.
Popovich didn't sound at all concerned about whether his club entered the playoffs with momentum.
"I think that is all psycho-babble," he said. "We have been on both ends of everything for all of these years, so, you just go play."
Spurs veterans also downplayed their late-season stumbles, which included an eight-game road losing streak.
"We got in and now it is time to fine-tune things and try to get better," Aldridge said. "There is no pressure on us, so we've just got go play and be better and just be locked in."
Nikola Mirotic had 21 points and 15 rebounds, Jrue Holiday added 19 points and E'Twaun Moore added 13 points for the Pelicans, who led by double-digits throughout the second half, with their largest lead topping out at 25.
The Pelicans finished with 78 points in the paint and shot 59.1 percent (52 of 88). New Orleans also had 32 points on fast breaks, compared to 17 for the Spurs.
"In transition, with Rondo leading us, and A.D. running the floor, and we got E'Twaun on the wing and Niko shooting 3s — I feel like we've got a pretty good chance," Holiday said.
Spurs: Kyle Anderson and Bryn Forbes each scored 10 points. ... Remained without Kawhi Leonard, who wound up playing in only nine games during the regular season because of a lingering right quadriceps injury. His availability for the playoffs remains unclear. ... Finished 14-27 on the road, where they'll start the playoffs.
Pelicans: Won the season series against San Antonio, 3-1. ... Mirotic hasn't scored fewer than 21 in any of New Orleans' past five games. .... New Orleans' 48 victories is the third most in franchise history, which officially dates back to the NBA's return to the city in 2002-03. When Chris Paul played in New Orleans, the club won 56 games in 2007-08 and 49 in 2008-09.
The game was competitive until 4:32 remained in the second quarter, when Pau Gasol sank a short turnaround to cut New Orleans' lead to 42-39.
Soon after, New Orleans began clamping down on defense and ramping up its tempo in transition, closing the second quarter on a 19-4 run that earned the Pelicans a standing ovation as they walked off the floor at halftime with a 61-43 lead.
Mirotic scored seven points during the spurt, all on layups set up by Rondo, including one as he was fouled by Gasol.
"We want to play fast. They want to play slow. We wanted to try to dictate the tempo of game and I thought we did that, especially in the second quarter," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said "We got out and ran and had good ball movement."
Spurs: Open the playoffs against defending champion and second seed Golden State.
Pelicans: Start their postseason in Portland.